Yesterday afternoon, on a crisp cool Sunday, I jogged to the start line of the W&OD Trail 5K race, 1/2 mile from my house. The W&OD is a 40-mile long flat 8-foot wide asphalt trail extending from Arlington to beyond Leesburg, a paved-over railroad bed that cuts across my back property line at MP7.
Because I hadn't raced in a year and a half and I'd only been back to running for eight weeks, I was as nervous as any novice runner. My 5K time used to average about 24 minutes, but now I was worried I was confronting my new running paradigm of a 30-minute 5K race, unexplored territory for me.
I had hydrated all day, eaten a huge bowl of pasta for lunch and quaffed an energy drink before leaving my house. I punched my Garmin when the starter gun went off and moved out with the crowd.
The first quarter-mile went by at an 8:50 pace, which I knew was too fast. I slowed as I climbed the bicycle bridge over Leesburg Pike at the half-mile mark, my breathing ragged.
I hit the western turnaround at Shreve Road at the mile mark in 9:32. I was too tired already to do the math to see if that pace would be good enough for a sub-30 minute 5K. (I needed to maintain a 9:39 pace, which I should have calculated before I went to the race.)
We ran over the bicycle bridge again as I enviously looked at my house from its height, feeling like just packing it in and going home. I used the downhill off the bridge to pick up my pace and I passed the second mile marker in 9:15 (18:47).
A fog of fatigue enveloped me as we ran eastbound past the start/finish line and proceeded to the far turnaround at Little Falls Road. I felt like I was crawling as I retraced the half mile back to the finish line, passing the 3rd mile marker in 9:51 (28:36).
My time was 29:12 (9:24), a PW but still exhilarating since I achieved my goals of a) finishing b) running all the way and c) breaking 30 minutes. I was 89/183, tenth out of sixteen in my age group.